Friday, August 30, 2019

Visit Bandelier National Monument for a Great Late Summer Escape

Frijoles Canyon at Bandelier National Monument.
With summer waning and vacation crowds thinning it’s a great time to visit one of New Mexico’s many scenic historic sites such as Bandelier National Monument.

Just a short drive from Albuquerque or Santa Fe the national monument showcases ancient Indian cave dwellings in a remote forested canyon.
Visitors can learn more about the people who lived in the canyon and caves as they hike among them along a 1.2 mile main loop trail. Ladders allow visitors to climb into the caves for a firsthand experience while plenty of interpretive signs are posted to provide historical context.

More adventurous guests can continue up the canyon to Alcove House where they’ll scale four sets of ladders to a large cave in the cliff face about 140 feet above the canyon floor. The dizzying heights are not for the meek of heart and make for a memorable visit.

Pole ladders lead up into caves at Bandelier National Monument. Photo courtesy of Leanne Arvila.  
After a couple of hours touring the main loop trail and Alcove House many guests return to the visitor center where they can enjoy an excellent 14-minute film about the monument while relaxing in the air conditioned comfort of the monument’s auditorium.

Recently produced by award-winning National Park Service cinematographer John Grabowska, it features towering, expansive views of Bandelier, the Pajarito Plateau, the Jemez Mountains, the Valle Caldera and the Rio Grande.

The film was shot during different seasons of the year with many scenes taken by helicopter and played back in slow motion to give viewers the sense of flying over the countryside.

The park also offers plenty of other activities including demonstrations by artists from surrounding pueblos, guided hikes and evening seminars at the park’s Juniper campground amphitheater.

Visitors will find other hiking and camping opportunities within the monument by visiting the Bandelier website at

A cloud burst at Bandelier National Monument. Photo courtesy of John Gonzales of Lubbock, Texas. 
The basic park entrance fee is $25 per private carload which is good for seven days and allows access to Tsankawi and other areas of the park such as Burnt Mesa.

At Tsankawi visitors can take a 1.5 mile walk along a mesa featuring numerous caves, petroglyphs and the ruins of the village of Tsankawi. Ladders are in place to allow guests to climb up to the mesa top and come down the other side.  Views of the Rio Grande Valley and opposing Sange de Cristo mountains are impressive here.

The parking lot for Tsankawi is found off N.M. 4 at the intersection of the East Jemez Road, also known locally as the Los Alamos National Labs Truck Route. Visit the monument’s website and download a good map of the area at

Visitors to Bandelier are required to travel into the monument on a free shuttle bus between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Before or after that visitors can drive in. The monument is open dawn to dusk. There are exceptions including vehicles displaying a handicapped placard and for vehicles containing animals, although not pets are allowed on trails within the monument. Campers and wayward travelers  park at Juniper Campground where they then take the shuttle down to the visitor’s center.

The author drives a Bandelier shuttle bus for Atomic City Transit
The shuttle buses are operated by Los Alamos County Atomic City Transit under contract with the National Park Service. The buses leave the White Rock Visitor Center off N.M. 4 every 30 minutes starting at 9 a.m. during the week and every 20 minutes on the weekends. The last bus is scheduled to leave Bandelier daily at 5 p.m. on weekdays and 5:10 p.m. on weekends. All buses stop within the park at Juniper Campground to pick up and drop off passengers.

For maps, directions and more information please visit the monument’s website at or
contact them by telephone at (505) 672-3861 x517. for more information 

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Enchanted Circle a great New Mexico roadtrip

The visitor pavilion at Eagle Nest Lake State Park.
New Mexico’s high country is looking great after a long snowy winter and plenty of rain this summer.
And a good way to enjoy some of that scenic beauty is to take a drive along the Enchanted Circle, a 65-mile round trip from Questa through Red River, over to Eagle Nest and back to Taos.

A recent drive revealed anglers reeling in trout at recently restored Eagle Rock Lake off N.M. 38 just outside the town of Questa. The picturesque lake is stocked regularly and is a great place to cast a line before heading over to Red River.

Eagle Rock Lake.
A quintessential summer resort town, Red River offers so much to do one needs to stop and ponder it all before proceeding. The patio at Red River Brewing Company overlooking busy Main Street offers great spot to do that.

Tucked in a canyon surrounded by heavily forested mountains, outdoor recreation and the visitors it brings are the primary focus of Red River’s economy.
Main Street of Red River N.M.
A walk about the teaming tourist town reveals a go-cart track to race around while the nearby ski area lift offers a lazier and more scenic ride.

Horseback rides, off-road vehicle rentals and guided fishing trips can be had while plenty of restaurants, saloons, gift shops, sporting goods stores and art galleries round out the town’s offerings.

The area features numerous campgrounds, motels and hotels for visitors to stay in and attracts many guests from nearby plains states such as Texas and Oklahoma.

Upon leaving Red River, the Enchanted Circle tour continues with a climb over Bobcat Pass at 9,800 feet and winds down into the rural Moreno Valley.

Bobcat Pass.
The valley had once been a booming gold mining area with the city of Elizabethtown at its heart. At the time it boasted a population of 7,000 with saloons, gambling halls, theatres, businesses and several newspapers.

Now the gold and the town are gone and the valley is a quiet place dominated by sprawling ranches and expansive views.

The highway ends at Eagle Nest where the local state park and its beautiful visitor center features a beautiful outdoor pavilion overlooking the lake. This spot is one of the state’s best kept secrets and is a great place to stop for a picnic and some fishing.

The state park also features a campground for those who might want spend the night while the nearby town offers overnight accommodations, gas and groceries, fishing supplies and a classic western style saloon.

The valley also is home to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park where visitors can learn more about those who served and died in that war.

The Enchanted Circle commences on U.S. 64, up and over 9,100 foot Palo Flechado Pass and down through a twisty canyon along which the Rio Fernando de Taos flows. At the intersection of N.M. 585 travelers can head west to reunite with N.M. 68 and take that road back home.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Valles Caldera Backcountry Open to Motorists

The Valles Caldera National Preserve’s backcountry is open again to motorists this summer providing free access to prime fishing, hiking and other outdoor activities.

“The public enjoys the convenience of driving into the preserve,” says Kimberly DeVall, Chief of Interpretation and Education for the National Park Service’s preserve in the Jemez Mountains. “And we’re happy to be able to provide them that opportunity so they can enjoy all the preserve has to offer.” 

The backcountry normally opens up by mid-May but was delayed until just recently this season due to road repairs, says DeVall.

The preserve issues up to 35 backcountry motor vehicle permits daily to motorists visiting the 89,000 acre preserve. The permits are issued on a first come, first served basis at no cost. The preserve is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. No permits will be issued after 3:30 p.m. and all motorists must check out by 5:30 p.m. There is no camping available on the preserve.

DeVall says they rarely run out of permits during the week but on the weekends they tend to go quickly.

Visitors will find 26 miles of dirt and gravel roads to travel within the vast backcountry featuring plenty of hiking and biking trails and great fishing on San Antonio and Jaramillo Creeks. No pets are allowed in the backcountry.

A recent visit to the preserve during the week revealed only a handful of vehicles in the backcountry and most of them belonged to anglers. Motorist must remain on established roads and park in only in designated areas. Portable toilets are provided.

The two backcountry creeks flow through great, open meadows and are noted for their deep undercut banks where trout can hide. A two fish bag limit is in effect on the preserve, a valid state license is required and only artificial flies and lures with single, barbless hooks are permitted. Waders are not needed but a good hat, long sleeves and plenty of sunscreen and bug repellant is recommended. Fishing supplies and groceries can be purchased in the nearby town of La Cueva.

Some visitors to the preserve may enjoy just driving into the backcountry for some sightseeing and a picnic. San Antonio Cabin is a scenic spot with picnic tables for use and visitors are reminded to clean up after themselves.

The preserve also is home to many wildlife species including elk, bear, coyote, eagles and turkeys and the best viewing opportunities are in the morning and evening.

The preserve can be found off N.M.4 between Jemez Springs and Los Alamos. For more information about the Valles Caldera National Preserve please their website at or call the preserve at 575-829-4100.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Shady Lakes Still the Place to Fish in Albuquerque

One of the bass ponds at Shady Lakes where plenty of largemouth bass lurk under the lily pads.
Shady Lakes in Albuquerque’s north valley is still a great place for kids to learn to fish or for more experienced anglers to stalk bass.

The private ponds offer largemouth bass, bluegill and trout fishing under the shade of mature cottonwood trees and in the shadow of the nearby Sandia Mountains

The scenic setting is made all that more eye pleasing this time of year by the abundance of colorful blooms dotting the water lilies blanketing the bass ponds.

The Phillips family has been operating the fishing preserve since 1952 when former Albuquerque advertising salesman, Jim Phillips, bought the former bait fish farm and converted it to a private fishing park.

Ron Joseph "RJ" Annichiarico, 67, of Rio Rancho shows off a nice largemouth bass he was caught while fishing at Shady Lakes. 
Guests do not need a state issued license to fish at Shady Lakes. Anglers pay $11.95 a day for catch and release bass fishing while angling for trout costs $8.95 for adults and $6.95 for children under the age of 12. All trout caught must be kept at a cost of .75 cents per inch.

The park is open Wednesday through Sunday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. for the season from spring through fall.

Jill Mikles, 66, took over management of the park from her sister Jan who left several years ago following a long stint at the helm. The park continues to operate while remaining available for sale with an asking price of $2.5 million.

Mikles said the fishing ponds will receive a fresh supply of young bass this summer along with a
large quantity of panhead minnows that they prey upon. Trout are re-supplied as needed on an ongoing basis.

During a recent visit a grandmother could be seen helping a passel of kids bait up their hooks and providing sage angling advice. 

Kids have been learning to fish at Shady Lakes for generations.
Other anglers waited in the shade of the overhanging trees for a bite from one of the largemouth bass lurking under the lily pads.

Still others lounged in camp chairs enjoying a cold drink while watching the ever-present groups of children playing around the park.

After more than fifty years Shady Lakes is still one of the Albuquerque area’s best family friendly, outdoor recreational destinations that should be enjoyed while it still exists.

Shady Lakes is at 11033 Hwy 313 NW just across the road from the Sandia Pueblo Roadrunner train station near the  roundabout at the intersection of Second and Fourth Streets and Roy Ave.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

State Parks building a new tent campground on the San Juan River

The San Juan River at Simon Canyon below Navajo Dam - Spring 2019.
Campers will soon have a new place to pitch a tent on the banks of the San Juan River at Navajo Lake State Park.

“We’ve got some of the best fly-fishing in the Southwest and lots of visitors asking for tent sites so we’re excited to finally be able provide them some right on the river,” said Chris Smith, superintendent at Navajo Lake State Park.

The state park in northwestern New Mexico features the state’s top trout fishery in the river below Navajo Dam. The reservoir above is regarded by many as the state’s best smallmouth bass fishery.

The park saw over a half million visitors in fiscal year 2018 with about half of them visiting the five miles of river within the park, Smith said.

The park offers camp sites on the river at Cottonwood Campground where the availability of a dump station and full hookups of water and electricity at all 48 sites draws many visitors with travel trailers or motor homes.

But the persistent demand for tent sites resulted in plans to build a new “dry” campground on 66 acres of state owned land on the south side of the river just upstream of the Crusher Hole day use area.

Site of the new dry campground on Navajo Dam Lake State Park's Johnson Tract.
The new campground should be complete by 2021 and is slated to feature two vault toilets and 20 pull-through sites each with a shelter, campfire ring and picnic table. 

Native shade trees and other vegetation will be planted throughout the campground, Smith said. A new pump house and acequia has already been constructed on the site to draw water from the river for irrigation purposes.

Cost to construct the new campground is estimated at $1.1 million with much of the funding coming from a grant through the recently re-enacted federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Royalties from offshore oil and gas drilling are earmarked for the fund which provides grants to purchase land for outdoor recreation and other public benefit.

The San Juan River has long been a top trout fishing destination for anglers due to a huge population of large trout of and many miles of public access.  The river’s draw brings in an estimated $30 to $40 million annually to the state’s economy with much of that generated from of out-of-state anglers, according to economic and other published studies.

Fisheries biologist Marc Wethington of the N.M. Dept. of Game & Fish shows off just one of the many beautiful trout that can found lurking in the waters on the San Juan River below Navajo Dam.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Good snowpack in 2019 should create great conditions for rafting, kayaking and canoeing

Photo courtesy of New Wave Rafting. 
With so much snow in the mountains this winter rafting guides and outfitters are expecting a great runoff season.

“It should be a banner year on the Rio Grande Box,” says Steve Miller, president of the New Mexico River Outfitters Association.

And that means it should be a great year to take a hair-raising, white-knuckle ride guaranteed to make you feel alive.

The “Box” runs through a deep, rocky gorge in the Río Grande del Norte National Monument between the John Dunn Bridge at Arroyo Hondo to the Taos Junction Bridge above Pilar.

It’s 16 miles of whitewater thrills and chills and one of northern New Mexico’s best outdoor adventures, Miller says.

Whitewater enthusiasts from around the country converge on the “Box” during high water years and this year is shaping up to be one of them.

Snow pack surveys by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service (USDA NCRS) show well above average levels in the mountains of southern Colorado and New Mexico. Visit more detailed information.

When all that snowpack melts and flows downstream through the state’s rivers, creeks and streams it produces great conditions for rafters, kayakers and canoeists.

Those interested in the sport can get a taste of all the fun by booking a trip with an experienced outfitter through, Miller says.

Miller, who operates New Wave Rafting out of Embudo, says there are many different kinds of rafting trips to enjoy on the Rio Grande.

Rio Grande's "Race Course."
There’s a fast, furious five-mile run featuring plenty of thrills that can be taken in the morning or afternoon on the “Race Course” between Quartzite and the County Line takeout.

Those more interested in sightseeing including wildlife can take a gentler, seven-mile float through the Orilla Verde Recreation Area between the Taos Junction Bridge and the Quartzite take out at Pilar.

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep at Pilar.
There are also backcountry trips on the Chama River and angling adventures as the season progresses through the summer, Miller notes.

Last year was one of the worst years on record for snowpack and the lack of runoff left many in the rafting industry struggling.

“We’re looking to rebound this year,” Miller says.

The great snowpack this year also should produce some much needed relief for many of the state’s reservoirs.

Reservoir levels monitored by the NCRS show many are at well below their average capacity and in need of replenishment.

The great winter snows combined with a good monsoon season this summer should go a long way towards reducing the drought conditions that have repeatedly plagued the state in recent years. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Historic lodge, cottages and cabins at Elephant Butte Lake make for a great getaway

The historic Dam Site Lodge at Elephant Butte Lake.
History, hot springs and fantastic fishing make a stay in the lodge or cabins at Elephant Butte’s Dam Site a great spring getaway.

“We absolutely loved staying here,” said Brenda Provins of LaPeer Michigan who spent six weeks with her husband staying in one of the Dam Site’s recently restored historic cottages. “It was a great vacation.”

Visitors to the Dam Site also can spend a night in one of eight well-appointed rooms within the historic lodge or rent one of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built rock cabins overlooking the lake formed behind the 
imposing dam.

A lodge room featuring artwork by Degrazia.
Neal Brown is president of Lago Rico Inc. which operates the Dam Site lodging and three marinas on the lake under license with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Brown and his crew of craftsmen have been restoring the Dam Site’s historic buildings since taking over the operation from New Mexico State Parks in 2015.

“It’s been a labor of love,” he says of his efforts to restore and improve the accommodations offered at the Dam Site. “But it’s worth it to preserve one of the prettiest places in the southwest.”

Visitors relaxing on the lodge’s veranda or a cabin porch are afforded a great view of the lake’s namesake, Elephant Butte.

Elephant Butte.
And it’s just a quick drive down the lake’s edge to fish for bass and other species, especially during the spring when angling conditions improve.

Above the lodge and cabins guests will find a park constructed by CCC workers featuring barbecue grills and shelters with even more great views of the lake.

Evidence of the CCC handiwork during the Great Depression can be seen everywhere at the Dam Site which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Statute honoring CCC workers.
The CCC was a Depression-era government program that provided unemployed men jobs and housing in work camps around the country. There are many such sites in New Mexico and for more information please visit the State Historian’s website at

Guests at the Dam Site will find plenty to do in the area.

In the nearby town of Truth or Consequences visitors can bask in the waters from natural hot springs offered at several different establishments.

A private hot tub with a view overlooking the Rio Grande at Riverbend Hot Springs in Truth or Consequences. 
The town also boasts one of the state’s oldest and best steakhouses, plenty of great shopping and the Geronimo Springs Museum.

The nearby town of Elephant Butte caters to anglers and offers many different access points to the lake throughout the state park.

A drive around the surrounding countryside reveals miles of remote desert and expansive scenery in every direction.

Spaceport America in the desert outside of Elephant Butte Lake. 
The federal Bureau of Reclamation operates the dam and is pleased with the restoration work Brown is doing to the historic structures.

“He has taken on a lot of this work on his own, invested a lot and is doing a fantastic job there,” said Mary Carlson of the Public Affairs office of the federal Bureau of Reclamation in Albuquerque.

A restored CCC built cabin at the Dam Site.
Those interested in helping with the restoration cause need only rent a room at the lodge or a cabin or cottage. The Dam Site also offers campsites for recreational vehicles. For more information and reservations visit

Interior of a CCC built cabin under restoration at the Dam Site.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valles Caldera a Wonderful Winter Adventure

The winter is a great time to visit the Valles Caldera National Preserve especially when it's blanketed in a sea of gleaming snow.

“Anytime is a good time to visit the preserve,” says Kimberly DeVall, Chief of Interpretation and Education for the National Park Service’s preserve in the Jemez Mountains. “But when we have all this snow it’s really special, simply serene.”

The 89,000-acre preserve off N.M. 4 near the village of La Cueva between Jemez Springs and Los Alamos is a great place to go cross country skiing, snowshoeing or just sightseeing when winter delivers snowy weather.

And it’s made even better because the preserve isn’t charging its usual $25 entrance fee again this winter.

Those seeking the kind of quiet solitude only a wide expanse of snow-covered pasture and deep forest can provide will find just that at the preserve.

During a recent visit one could see people on skis and snowshoes dotting the huge snow-covered pasture formed by a collapsed volcano.

Inside the visitor center, found a couple miles off the highway, volunteers answered questions and handed out maps to guests while a stack of logs blazed away in the fireplace. The center offers snacks, beverages, books and gifts as well as snowshoe and ski pole rentals.

Visitors can ski or hike to the nearby “cabin district” where the park’s headquarters, employee housing and several rustic log cabins are nestled among the trees. Numerous movies and televisions shows have been shot at the Caldera including “Longmire” which features these iconic cabins.

A visit here provides the opportunity to listen to the breeze in the trees, enjoy the scent of pine in the cold crisp air and take in some spectacular views.

During warmer months visitors will find herds of elk, soaring bald eagles and other wildlife to view at the preserve. There’s plenty of wild brown and rainbow trout to fish for in several creeks and rivers as well as hiking, biking and other outdoor recreation to be enjoyed.

For more information about the Valles Caldera National Preserve please their website at

The preserve was formerly the private Baca Ranch purchased by the federal government in 2000. It was originally operated as a trust overseen by a board appointed by the president of the United States. Public use was very limited under the trust and the National Park Service was later chosen to take over its operation in October 2014.

DeVall, who worked with the original trust as a recreational program manager applied for and was hired to work for the incoming National Park Service administration. She has since helped implement changes to provide greater public access to the many outdoor recreational opportunities available at the preserve.

If You Go:

From Santa Fe head north on US84/285 to Pojoaque and take State Road 502 to White Rock and then follow State Road 4 up through the mountains and upon emerging into a great, open area look for the entrance to the preserve on your right, further down the road, about 65 miles. Make a round trip of it by continuing on State Road 4 through Jemez Springs and Jemez Pueblo to State Road 550 for a quick drive down to Bernalillo and then back up to Santa Fe on I-25. Great green chile cheeseburgers and cold beer can be had in a classic New Mexico bar, the Los Ojos, in Jemez Springs.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Ice Fishing at Fenton Lake

Fenton Lake in the Jemez Mountains is open for ice fishing this winter.

“It’s been really great,” says Manny Sanchez, manager of Fenton Lake State Park. “We’re well stocked and people are catching plenty of fish.”

The lake hasn’t been open to ice fishing for several years but this year’s winter storms and colder temperatures have produced ice thick enough to safely support anglers, Sanchez says.

The lake has been stocked with thousands of trout in recent weeks and the fishing has been reported good with meal/wax worms, salmon eggs, spoons or other baits and lures jigged off the bottom.

It remains to be seen how long the ice will hold up so it’s best to hit this lake sooner than later. Sanchez thinks the ice which is over a foot thick should last another three weeks or so.

“It’s not busy during the week so that’s a good time to come too,” he says. Weekends have been busy at the popular park that serves outdoor recreation enthusiasts from the Albuquerque, Los Alamos, Espanola and Santa Fe areas. 

To get started all an angler needs is an axe to chip through an already existing hole and a slotted kitchen spoon to keep it clear.

“There’s already hundreds of holes drilled out there,” Sanchez says.

Anglers venturing out onto the ice might want to wear strap-on cleats as it can be very slick going, Sanchez says.

Bring a sturdy plastic bucket to carry your gear in and then sit on. Dress warmly and in layers.

Adam Vigil, 7, of Taos shows how its done at Eagle Nest Lake back in 2008.
Other than that keep the wind at your back, the sun in your face and enjoy the fishing. 

The park has five camp sites with electricity available for $14 a night. Three are first come, first served and two can be reserved through the state parks reservation website at

Anglers with a valid fishing license needn’t pay a $5 day use fee but will have to leave their vehicle in a lot by the park entrance and walk in.

Visit for more information about New Mexico State Parks including the latest information about conditions or call the park at (575) 829-3630. 

Fishing licenses bait and tackle and groceries can be purchased at Amanda’s country store in La Cueva. Visit for more information about visiting the area including fishing reports and local businesses. 

Other lakes open to ice fishing in northern New Mexico include Heron and Eagle Nest and Mundo on the Jicarilla Apache reservation. The Albuquerque area drains also provide good winter trout fishing.

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